Down to the Studs – Part 2

Before March, the world of the restaurant worker didn’t look very different than a scene out of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Really. Paris 1927. Same back-of-the-house/front-of-the-house absurdity. Same hard conditions. Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential showed the world that nothing had changed all that much.

“We filled a plate with what we could find, and perched on a stool, and gulped the food down amid the sights and smells of dishwashing, with dirty dishes all about us, and the pile of scraps growing bigger every minute as the dish‐washer pursued his merry way. Under such conditions, fifteen minutes is a liberal estimate for the time spent in a meal.” – wrote psychologist Amy Tanner, in the July 1907 American Journal of Sociology, after going “undercover” as a server in a restaurant for her research.

In my last post I called out the structural inequities at the top of the restaurant industry that contribute to an environment that makes systematic change challenging. Now let’s address the operations.

Restaurant work culture by nature creates a serious strain on the health and well-being of the people who prepare and serve food. An article published this April written by researchers at DePaul University along with the Collaborative for Health Equity Cook County, outlines the history and social context of this health crisis, even before COVID-19.

Restaurant workers comprise 30% of minimum wage workers in this country. Turnover is one of the highest of any profession. For these reasons, few employers are compelled to make any real change in the area of restaurant work culture, inclusion, management training, or investment in workers. These shortcomings effect people of color and women dis-proportionally. The industry is more female (53%) and young (40%) with a median age of 31.

Before George Floyd’s murder challenged White Americans to engage head on with the impact of racism, the restaurant industry has had its’ own issues with systemic racism, gender discrimination, and xenophobia. Protesters are demanding change in policing through government restructuring and oversight. Restaurant workers should make similar demands of policy makers and industry leaders to address these issues too.

The COVID-19 crisis has given us a unique opportunity to take time to reexamine our industry, to create better culture on the court, in addition to asking for policy changes at the local, state and federal level to protect workers’s health and well-being. Our industry is the pebble in the water, creating ripples that radiate out into our society and economy. Whatever helps us, helps everyone.

Inclusion and Belonging – The road to better mental health

Trigger warning: I’m going to be really straight here and may ruffle some feathers. White folks tend to generalize the “other” as one big group that hangs together. All black folks have an automatic brotherhood with other black folks (anyone who is black is African American, for example). All Spanish speakers are “Mexican”. There is an underlying assumption that all the other know each other like a tribe or something.

Consider this: If you’re white, have you ever found yourself asking,”why do black people sabotage other black people?” For the same reason that white dude in your office stabs you in the back to get the promotion. It has nothing to do with the shared color of your skin. We talk about “black on black” crime and our government tracks it. Why? Why do we expect people to automatically have affinity with each other because of the color of their skin or the language they speak?

So why are you surprised that the Brown people in your kitchen are not all chummy? Or that the two Black servers won’t talk to each other?

In fact if what we have in the restaurant industry is diversity, it requires much more attention to inclusion and belonging than any other environment. People develop defense mechanisms to shield themselves against racism, sexism and xenophobia. Many of our employees have faced these things daily and survived. Their guard is up.

A culture based on respecting differences, bridging gaps, listening (have someone translate if necessary!), acknowledging can go a long way towards transforming the workforce. While you are rebuilding your team, or if you are just being rehired or hired at a new job, think about what you can contribute in the way of inclusive conversations.

I am committed to facilitating these conversations across teams in the restaurant industry. If you are looking for this in your business, please reach out at redtruckconsulting@gmail.com

Down to the Studs – Part 1

I’ve sat down several times in the past three months to write and I’ve been stopped: Where to begin? The restaurant industry is in pieces. There was much that needed fixing before the pandemic. Five months ago, my commitment to transform the restaurant world had one dimension. I focused on people’s experience at work and spent the past two years making an impact there. This pandemic has made something clear: whether it’s in the way that restaurants are financed, real estate is negotiated or workers experience their work environment, everything must change.

Fast forward five months. Overnight most restaurants either shuttered, laid off staff or pivoted to take-out and delivery. This was a BIG fucking breakdown. Now the rest of the world is suddenly present to how fragile our industry is and how critical it is to the American economy. From farmers who provided the food, to processors who packaged the food, to service workers who put it on the table. We as an industry are too big to fail.

For a long time, I have preached that the restaurant industry needs a good shakeout, rough-up, flipped-on-its-head kind of transformation. Now that we’re down to the studs, I know we can rebuild this thing to look completely different, to be better for everyone. Now is the time to re-evaluate everything so that this industry can work for everyone. We can create an intentional shift because the eyes of the nation are on us.

This pandemic has exposed the inequities that have been in American society since it’s beginning. People are coming out into the streets protesting for systemic change. If the people who have the power really stand as allies, as so many CEOs have claimed, start by looking at the inequities in the hospitality industry. Those that hold the capital and the real estate have to begin to see where policy and practice must be shaken up to bring real equality into the hospitality industry.

Expand Access to Funding – Make an intentional policy to loan to people under-represented in ownership positions.

Before the pandemic, women, Black, and Brown chefs faced an uphill struggle to find investors. Often faced with “prove it again” bias, they are challenged again and again to prove their worth. Access came easier to white men with little to no experience running their own organization. White men have failed and failed again and still manage to find funding.

Examine bias. Abandon cronyism. Reach beyond your sphere, make an effort to encourage entrepreneurship in under-represented clients.

Increase Mentorship – Both the finance and real estate industry can support success by creating mentoring programs for new entrepreneurs.

Real Estate Deals should support business success. Before the pandemic, private equity firms that owned retail property seemed to have little to no interest or understanding in how fragile the food industry was. Now they will be at a loss to find anyone to fill their storefronts.

People who understand retail business and have an interest in communities should be making the real estate deals. Real Estate Trusts and developers should have more realistic expectations about restaurant property so they align with the business constraints of restaurants.

Call on Municipalities to make affordable housing and transportation more accessible for service workers. Cities must stop cowtowing to big corporations that only employee high wage earners who force out low wage earners from housing in the city.

So that’s my top-down fix. In my next blogpost, my bottom-up fix!

Fix or Dismantle?

Last Saturday evening, I braved a deluge getting out of San Francisco to wind my way up Highway 29 to attend a lively panel discussion at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa. This was the last in a series of panel discussions hosted by the CIA called Conversations at Copia. I was pumped to hear the panelists and the theme was one that is very close to my heart – equity (lack of it) in the food service space.

The panel moderator was Andrew Zimmern (of Bizarre Foods fame) who led the conversation.

The panelists were people I admire deeply, for their authentic voices and their commitment to making a difference for people through food – Traci Des Jardin (Bay Area Chef), Kwame Onwuachi (chef and author, Notes from a Young Black Chef), Brandon Chrostowski (founder of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, featured in the documentary “Knife Skills” ), Angela Dunleavy-Stowell (CEO of FareStart – a program in Seattle that seeks to transform lives through food, life skills and job training. ) and Alycia Harshfield (California Restaurant Association Foundation – providing scholarship funding for young chefs on the rise).

They began with the question: What is equity? This set the stage for the conversation…If we start with a clear idea of what we’re going for, all on the same page, we can hope to get there. The answer boiled down to this: Equity is when everyone has the same level of opportunity to rise to the best they can be.

As a business owner, bringing equity into the workplace takes something. It has to be intentionally created as a plan or a strategy. The status quo is inequity. People show up with advantages and disadvantages, fueled by how the world relates to them. Those things will create a natural imbalance. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

Traci pointed out that if one hired only the most qualified candidates for the job, one might find that the group looks homogeneous. That is, what shows up is the group that already has had all the advantages to end up at her door. She must be willing to mentor others who may not have had all the advantages to make it to her door. She knows that if she really wants equity, she must be willing to address what fuels the inequity. One of those things is lack of opportunity. Programs like EDWINS and FareStart help. Mentorship is key. And those solutions both seem like a fix….

Then came the next question. Andrew asked the panelists, “how do we address the issues of inequity in the food service industry – Fix or dismantle?” Angela Dunleavy-Stowell said “dismantle”. “Too broken” She made the case that the real transformation happens when we totally re-examine what is important and build a system that supports that. I agree. We have to redefine the foundations of our business model,. to align with human values. Create those values to be the leading force of everything we do.

It was then that Angela brought up tipping and the conversation and yes, it is a rabbit hole. For the next ten minutes or so, the conversation flirted at the edge of the hole.

For all the back and forth about this subject, I am a firm believer that tips must be abolished in restaurants in order for us to seriously address the issue of inequity. It represents inequity between the customer and the server, the server and the cook, the owner and the server, and server to server.

Full-disclosure: I have never worked for tips. I always have worked for a wage or a salary. I have been tipped for wedding cakes and such. But I do not have a server mindset.

There are so many reasons why tipping is the source of the problem in food service.

  1. It creates a natural rift between those who customer-face and those who don’t. Servers generally work only 6 hour shifts and the kitchen can typically work 8-12 hours at a time. And servers make more money on average than anyone in the kitchen. In one fine dining establishment I worked, the servers made more than the owner. The Back of the house and the front are naturally at odds; it’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked. I believe this basic reality, that servers make more money for fewer hours, is at the core of the problem.
  2. The servers tip is not based on service, but often based on the menu pricing. Therefore, the higher the prices, the larger the tips. And yet that is the server taking advantage of the fact that they have been hired at that restaurant. Sure they may need to be better at their job to work at a high end restaurant, but really, the customer will tip based on a percentage of the bill. By virtue of working at a restaurant that charges alot of money for it’s menu, the server gets paid more.
  3. While the server can move around to restaurants where customers will pay more for their food and thus tip higher, someone in the kitchen can not expect to make more money just because they are in a fine dining establishment.
  4. It is well documented that servers of color make less than their white counterparts. And so, to eliminate tipping would eliminate one place where inequity can rear it’s nasty head – with the customer.
  5. And finally, tipping creates a power dynamic between the customer and the server that, no matter what the tacit agreement might be, promotes inequity.

Dismantling is far more challenging than a fix. It requires a fundamental shift from all parties involved – business owners, employees, customers, and society as a whole. I, for one, am a stand for the shift.

Workplace Relationships, Policy vs Culture?

As a woman moving into the second half of my life I know I have fixed beliefs. In a changing world I love challenging those fixed beliefs. I’ve been obsessed with looking at things I take for granted as truth and turning them on their heads. I do this as a personal growth exercise, to find ways to transform something. Sounds a little weird I know. I’ll give you some examples of how that looks in real life.

I recently had an opportunity to visit the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC. I went in with all my baggage and perceptions and biases. I took an inventory of those things as I entered the building and asked myself to put aside everything I believed and enter with a curiosity and intention to learn something new. Not like a new fact but rather a new perspective. In doing so, I transformed something in my thinking about race. I left with something else in my bag of tools I use to understand the world around me.

I had such an experience yesterday in a conversation at work. I was explaining to a co-worker why I felt that workplace relationships were problematic, particularly ones between supervisors and subordinates. As HR in this company, I see it as my responsibility to prevent these kinds of power dynamics. Having been involved in such a relationship early in my career and being subjected to a toxic dynamic, my go-to attitude is to throw all such relationships into that pot. Even if the relationships themselves aren’t toxic, the precedent it sets for others is toxic. I stood strongly for this.

My concern has been with what could happen if hierarchical workplace relationships are allowed to exist. I think like an owner and consider liability too. From all angles to me these types of relationships look like a bad idea. I don’t mean just for the people involved in the relationship (the power dynamic leaving one person feeling trapped) but for the team around them. It could be seen as a conflict of interest: favored promotions, task assignments, raises and reviews. Others could feel uncomfortable and unable to speak openly. They might not feel able to address concerns to their supervisor about work of the partner. These, by the way, seemed so obvious to me that it never occurred to me that my younger co-worker might not understand this.

When I explained to her what I had experienced and how other kitchens have been run, she said I was imposing my fear onto her and her relationship. I began to examine what my lived experience was imposing on her. In my co-worker’s view, I was imposing the fear from my past onto how I saw workplace relationships. I was imposing my lived experience, in the form of a policy, into the way it should look in the future.

It made sense to me in my orderly way of thinking: if something can be problematic behavior, avoid it at all costs. Since I had evidence that something bad could happen, I was insistent that no hierarchical relationship should be acceptable in the workplace.

I was puzzled about why, in the age of #MeToo, she didn’t see this as a problem. This didn’t occur to her because the culture at this workplace didn’t have it show up as a problem until it was. Past relationships that had been tolerated were not hierarchical. She wasn’t aware as a matter of culture, that this behavior could be a problem. When we see backlash from co-workers in response to the relationship, the culture can’t sustain it. . It became obvious to me that it was the culture that was to blame and no policy would alter that.

I still believe that these relationships are problematic but it isn’t a policy that is going to change this. It is the culture that will change this. Culture is about how we behave towards others. We hadn’t created a culture where people see their actions as impacting others or as a precedent for what it creates in the future.

If we want a culture where workplace relationships are not toxic or disruptive, what can we create? Let’s say we want a culture where fairness and equity drives how individuals are trained and promoted within the company. A workplace relationship could be in conflict with this culture we are creating. All employees agree to this. Instead of keeping the relationship a secret, the company addresses the potential conflict of interest. They can be open about this and create structures with the team to address this as soon as the potential for conflict arises.

Even as I write this I am finding myself cringing, it still doesn’t feel good to say this. Do I want to go down this road? The reality is that workplace relationships will happen. They should not be ignored. We spend so much time with our co-workers, it almost seems inevitable. The key is to avoid having them disruptive of your culture, and harmful to others.

The Magic is in Accountability

I was walking to my car with an uneasy feeling in my gut. An hour and a half before, I entered the restaurant for a job interview for a human resources position. I was excited. I prepped my questions, had done my reading. From the initial telephone screen, I had a feeling that this was one of those establishments that functioned on the old school philosophy of restaurant management. Untouched and unaffected by the changes wrought by the #MeToo movement. I am very familiar with this mindset. It’s the one I started in 30 years ago. Could I make a difference here? What challenge was I facing?

That feeling in my gut was sadness, mixed with resignation. It was exactly how I had imagined it and I was unsure I could ever make a difference there. The management’s stand was clear. It’s us against them. My job would have been to manage that adversarial relationship.

I don’t blame them. Once upon a time, I thought that way. But I had been an employee also and I know its that mindset that makes the restaurant work environment toxic. It makes it impossible for employees to speak up and be heard, to ask for what they need, to feel emotionally safe. Today that doesn’t work and today that has to stop.

I’m thinking, what is missing in the relationship between management and employees that would transform that mindset. That special sauce: accountability. In my current position, I have had the privilege and honor to be able to practice this. Let me demonstrate what I mean.

In one area of our kitchen, we had one worker who had a reputation for unreliability before I got there. Always late for his shift, calling out 15 minutes before his shift began, disappearing for long periods of time during his shift. No one could count on him. Our management wasn’t holding him to account, which of course had serious repercussions. I think he had been written up a couple of times but no follow through. Morale among the team was low, because they were doing his work and wondering why they had to be on time. It lead to an environment that was resentful, angry and defensive.

I came into this environment, tasked with creating structures and boundaries. Since he had been doing this for so long, he had no idea that this could get him fired, so we had a conversation to set the boundary. I set up clear guidelines and explained what the consequences were. I was clear that these were standards we were holding him accountable for, that he was responsible for determining how his employment was going to go. It wasn’t about him, it was about the execution of the accountability.

Let’s take the tardiness problem. This young man was perpetually late on Sundays. We discovered that his transportation was a huge issue on Sundays which made him late. He couldn’t be accountable for being on time on Sunday. We changed the start time. And he showed up on Sunday on time. He just had to let us know what worked for his accountability.

When others in your organization are not performing, they are not fulfilling on their accountability. Is it the role? If you approach every worker as if they are doing the best they can, and hold them accountable for their job, everything is clear cut. Create the accountability clearly with them from the beginning and make it kind of contract. It is a powerful tool to help them improve performance and set goals for themselves.

People who are new in the workforce often are unaware of what it means to be accountable. The magic is in learning how to be accountable, declaring it and having others hold you to it.

Building a Better Boss

In my last blogpost, I talked about how expensive it can be to constantly have to replace employees in your business. It has an economic cost as well as a less quantifiable cost, like the cost to company morale and customers’ experience. So how do you keep employees happy, for the moment and on an ongoing basis?

Retaining employees doesn’t necessarily require paying them more than anyone else in town or offering platinum benefits, although that certainly can help. If you don’t keep your wages somewhat competitive, people will eventually leave no matter how great a work environment you provide. There has to be an additional value beyond wages that your company brings to the employee. Most people who are building their careers want to be paid well, but they also see the value in the other important pieces you can offer that don’t cost you lot of extra dollars. These pieces just require extra thought and an action plan..

Let’s look at why people decide to quit a job. According to studies by Accenture that measured reasons for employees’ unhappiness, the greatest percentage can be attributed to not liking the boss. Think back on any job where you quit: Did you quit the job, or did you quit the boss? I can remember one boss who put her feet up on my desk whenever she came in to talk to me and yelled at me for every mistake, real or perceived. I had to quit before I’d get fired for yelling back!

According to Eric Reed’s article in TheStreet, the food service and hospitality industry is one with a reputation for mediocre bosses because managers often rise to their position based on skills that have nothing to do with their ability to manage people. They have mastered the line, or they understand the menu better than anyone else. The transition from line cook to sous chef to general manager isn’t easy for someone without leadership skills.  Often there is little time or money to be spent on training and development. Our industry is the hardest hit by this short-sighted thinking.  

The [second] most common profile for mediocre bosses is a high-turnover, low-skill environment. This may often be a retail or low-wage service industry position, one in which workers rarely stay very long so the corporation spends little on training or development. (Fast food alone has a turnover rate of 150% annually.)….. managers rarely receive the support or preparation they need to do the job well.

The other reasons why people quit? According to the Accenture study: 1) lack of empowerment, 2) internal politics, and 3) lack of recognition.  It all starts from the top. All part of the same issue.

Management Training:

It would make sense that if people leave a job because of their manager or boss, having better leaders/managers  could make a difference in having people stay.  Let’s start thinking long-term in developing leaders. Here are a few ideas:

  • Identify leaders – First identify people in your organization who have either natural skills for leadership or those who are interested in developing themselves as leaders. People who are able to take ownership of their work, and can lead others to do their best work.  In this process, be aware of any unconscious bias you may have around what a leader “looks” like. The leader in your organization may be hiding in plain sight! That busser, barback or dishwasher may surprise you someday.
  • Invest in coaching.  Put a program in place to train leaders in leadership, whether it’s a leadership program outside of work or a coach you bring in once a week. This has many benefits: 1) employees understand you are serious about leadership and good management , 2) all employees see for themselves what’s possible in your organization, 3) leaders get ongoing training designed to deal with real issues in the workplace.

 

  • Role Models for the Culture.  When you started your business, you had a strong set of values that informed your decision making. And now it’s time to translate those values into a culture in your business.  Often it’s these values that draw employees to work for you. But if your managers haven’t been thoroughly trained in it, they won’t be good ambassadors for that culture. Be clear with your staff that culture matters by having your managers act as role models.  I often remember the wonderful staff I had at one of my businesses. We made healthy simple food there, and connected with our customers on a personal level. We took care of our staff the same way. Our values and the way we demonstrated our values through our culture had our staff want to stay and work with us.
  • Create Structure for Everything . “Oh no!” you say? “I hate structure!” Well most people love structure in the workplace because it gives a clear map to what’s expected of them. Furthermore managers need good structures from which to evaluate someone’s success.  In fact managers can be instrumental in developing these structures!
    What do I mean? Here are a few examples: 1) a training manual for all positons 2) a clear policy around advancement and wage scales 3) a clear guide for managing disciplinary issues.4) regular check-ins with employees. 

 

My philosophy is if you create great managers and pathways to success, in any industry, you will create a place where people want to stay and do their best work.

Our industry in the past 30 years has become more of a profession than an occupation. We have people who have chosen career in the culinary field rather than fallen into it. Our industry can no longer assume that we don’t need the structures that other businesses need to serve employees. Employees everywhere want to be empowered in their jobs and have recognition for what they bring to their work. By crafting better managers, our industry will go a long way in improving retention in an industry that has one of the worst retention rates in the country.

 This blogpost can also be found as part of Bernoulli Finance’s February 2019 edition of The Workshop.

 

Do You Know what Your Employee Turnover is Costing You?

The October unemployment figures came out last week and I don’t need to tell you the results; unemployment is low, and wages are increasing. In most industries at least. In the food space, particularly restaurants, an industry with very low margins and very little wiggle room, rising wages and low unemployment have combined to create a terrible labor shortage.

You are most likely concerned with finding warm bodies as opposed to finding someone who is the right fit. Maybe you are also dealing with intense competition from other industries in your region that pay better for less labor intensive work. In the SF Bay Area, we’ve seen our well-trained employees jump ship to work in better paying tech jobs with better perks.

In today’s market, the employee/job seeker seems to have the upper hand. It’s a buyer’s market, the “buyer” being the employee/job seeker. Once you have enrolled someone in working with you, are you invested in keeping them? If the answer isn’t “yes” it should be!

The cost of employee turnover is perhaps greater than you think. The National Restaurant Association has estimated the cost of replacing an employee in our industry can range from $4K to $14K per employee. The Center for Policy and Economic Research has created a neat little calculator to help you determine the real quantitative cost of turnover.  Find it here.

Once you have an idea of what it’s costing you to hire that person’s replacement, you can begin to see the enormous value in focusing on retention. Let’s examine this more closely.

Quantifiable Costs

There are real quantifiable costs of having to replace an employee.

  • Screening and recruiting – Today, you will post on job boards online so it reaches more people and many of the boards help you isolate by keywords. It’s easier than it used to be for potential candidates to find you and to apply for your position. Many of these boards have made it easier for your manager to sort through the many resumes and applications you receive.(cost savings over the old days!) But someone still has to spend time looking over resumes, calling, arranging for interviews with the team, etc. Let’s assume about four hours per applicant, all together. That includes the time each member of your team spends evaluating the new hire.
  • Administrative costs – The cost of on-boarding the new hire includes the time your HR person or manager spends going over all the paperwork, the employee handbook, the online portal you have for your payroll, going over policies, benefits enrollment. In many small businesses that don’t have full time HR departments, the manager is accountable for this so you are pulling the manager away from essential functions of his/her job.
  • Training – Depending on the position, this could be more or less costly. The more skilled the position you are replacing, the more costly it becomes. Let’s assume for the moment we’re talking about a manager, someone responsible for a team of people. The new hire will need more training around your processes and culture, and the learning curve can be steep. Realistically it may take the better part of a month to get someone completely trained.

Non-Quantifiable Costs

There are very real soft costs of employee turnover as well.

  • Trust and social capital suffer. Teamwork is essential in our workspaces, and takes time to develop. The kitchen and dining room perform a dance every night based heavily on trust and teamwork. If the person next to you on the line is constantly changing, it is nearly impossible for you to develop a sense of trust with that person immediately and it can take a while to develop it. High performing teams require a high trust context and that takes time to develop.
  • The overall morale of the team can suffer when there is high turnover in the workplace. The high turnover might be for a variety of reasons which all eat away at how the remaining folks feel about being there. I worked for one company that had ridiculously high turnover. In fact, I probably had to cut at least 5 termination checks a week. Most of the terminations were people who had worked for less than two months before leaving.  Employees who stayed became resigned to the fact that whomever they were training would be out the door in a few weeks. They became resentful of management who didn’t care enough about the quality of the candidate. And they couldn’t do their own jobs well while training others.
  • Quality of food and service can suffer which nobody wants! A team of folks who have worked together closely, who have come to understand the menu/winelist, who have become familiar with customers – this is what maintains the quality of everything you are trying to create in your business.

You may be asking yourself now, “how can I reduce my turnover without spending more money than I’m saving? I mean, employee benefits would be great to offer, and I wish I could give everyone a $2/hour raise. But I can’t. So how can I compete?” This is precisely what I intend to tackle in my next post!

You can find this post on Bernoulli Finance’s site as well under The Workshop

Diversity And Inclusion – how it fits in our industry

Diversity and Inclusion.  Do these occur for you like trendy buzz words,  bandied about like Sustainable and Organic? Do you really understand what they mean and why they are important? I’ve been playing around with this in my head as I embark on my new business as a human resources consultant in restaurants. Everyone wants to be diverse and inclusive, but what does that really mean? How do restaurant owners implement inclusion as culture in their businesses?

I’ve been doing some reading up, applying what I’ve read to what I’ve experienced and thinking of ways to fit that into the conversation in the hospitality space. It is clear that we are diverse but diverse in a way that pigeonholes workers into positions. This is a generalization but on average, restaurant employees get darker-skinned the deeper into the restaurant you go.   Within our own little worlds there is gender and race discrimination which is very much a factor of our diversity. We are diverse yet still can be very segregated. What’s missing is inclusion.

Much has been written for  the corporate environment about D & I (as HR folks call it) but how do we address this in our industry? If we can create inclusive work environments, I believe this is where the industry transforms.

First we acknowledge the importance of diversity. Diversity is a reality. Our world is diverse. We celebrate diversity.  In the corporate environment,  diverse opinions generate fresh ideas. Also, with greater diversity in a group, disagreement is expected and there is a greater need for constructive problem solving. However, in the corporate environment, hiring is often done by looking at a certain template for success. Using a template such as education may favor one group over another, squelching diversity. Having an MBA from an Ivy League institution might be viewed as essential for success by some managers when in fact, that may not be the case. There may be an implicit bias that is thwarting success.  It might be more beneficial to the team to broaden the definition of success by asking what value an individual brings to the team.

So what is inclusion? Inclusion is the culture you create that values diversity. Inclusion is about examining implicit biases that exist within all of us, whether we like it or not. By creating policies for advancement and training, you create inclusion as a culture.  It can look like a practice of having regular team meetings to discuss issues that come up, culinary teams and hospitality teams. It can look like a practice of pooled tips. It can look like offering ESL courses for your employees.

I have written here about issues like sexual harassment and the need to model ethical behaviors. All of these issues can be addressed through developing a culture of inclusion.

Here is my shameless plug! I am currently raising funds for my tuition to eCornell’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program through a GoFundMe page here. I am offering free workshops and trainings to donors, so if that appeals to you, please donate! I would be so grateful for the opportunity to work with you using what I’ve learned.

 

 

 

 

Conversations for Creating Teams Everyday

You have a line cook who keeps getting into it with a server. You have a bartender who can’t keep his hands to himself. You have a dishwasher who always comes late. Daily occurrences in business, and as the owner you need to do something about this. You’ve got to have these conversations or your business may fall apart.

Are you an expert at communication? Maybe. Or maybe not. You have enough on your plate without having to worry about how to navigate this. I think I’ve heard it a million times, that being a business owner would be great if only you didn’t have to deal with employees.

But employees are what keeps your restaurant running, and you have to trust them to do it well. You want to trust them with your brand. You’ve created something that is a reflection of yourself and can you be adept at passing that onto the people who are the faces of your business? When communication is present, there is huge value in your team, and they can function and get along.

Let’s start with the arguing line cook and server. I have heard this so many times, it always is the same. Essentially this story is usually the same thing, wrapped in different packages. The cook feels disrespected and stressed out. The server who has to deal with the fussy customer takes frustration out on the line cook. By the end of service they are threatening to take it outside.

This is kind of an extreme case. But really the most absurd thing about the restaurant industry is that there are two groups of people who view their jobs very differently and yet they must collaborate to complete the dance.

Whatever is responsible for this great divide could fill a book, and it will take some big cultural shifts within this industry to actually bridge the divide. Even in houses where the FOH and BOH and Management can often appear to get along, there is often an undercurrent of something (wage disparity, race, and gender are some of those things) that runs between them all.  However, in the meantime, communication can do some of the heavy lifting.

What do you bring to the conversation that could make a difference? How can you create a better functioning team through communication? Begin to have conversations with your teams that promote relatedness. Everyone wants the same thing, but each of us have different concerns and commitments. If everyone relates to each other from those commitments, the communication shifts.  To understand what each of us is committed to  we can start with these questions:

  • What is the best possible work environment for each person on the team? Some people are there for the money, others for professional training. But everyone wants to enjoy the work they do. So what does that look like for each person? Create this with your team regularly, either with pre-service meetings or any other way you can (family meal, etc.).  Keep asking the question; create it as a possibility.
  • What is each person putting aside to be present for their team? Have a huddle and ask this of the team before getting on the court. The FOH can do this in lineup; the BOH can do it at the beginning of a shift. (all together?) Five minutes. There is a saying that when you come to work you leave your personal life at the door. What is that? Acknowledge it. And then create from nothing what the evening is going to look like. Customers will be satisfied. The cooks will be prepared for whatever they have to handle. The servers will be knowledgeable. The managers will be able to rely on everyone to do what they do and do it well.
  • What are you accountable for?: Like players on a soccer field or baseball diamond, everyone on the floor or in the kitchen knows what they are accountable for. AND everyone knows what they can count on others to do as well. With on-board training, weekly team  meetings and once a month all hands meetings, get everyone present to what they are accountable for so no one is unclear about what is expected.
  • Can we take a breather to talk?: we’re always trying to beat the clock in the restaurant business. Take the time to have the conversations necessary to work without concerns about anything.  An extra five minutes of peace can make for a smoother and peaceful work environment that seems anything but peaceful.
  • Have fun! No need to be so significant! Nothing’s wrong, it just didn’t go like it should have. No grudges, no drama, done…The people who walk in your door want to have fun. Imagine as a customer, you walk into a space where everyone is mad at everyone else and can’t wait to get home. No way is that a place I want to be!

These are just a few ideas to get the whole team (front and back) to work as one. We may be skeptical about this industry’s ability to see real change, but it begins with one. And then one of those workers leaves and takes your practices to someplace new, and it becomes a ripple effect. And change happens.